Blocks to Customer Focus
By: Jim Clemmer
Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His other bestsellers include Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance, and his most recent book, Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/
Despite all the proclamations, catchy advertising slogans, and customer
service publicity, service levels have improved only marginally in the
last few years. As Harvard Business School professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter,
puts it "Despite the recent media coronation of King Customer, many
customers will remain commoners... most businesses today say that they
serve customers. In reality, they serve themselves."
The problem is that most organizations only talk about customer service
improvement. Many executives don't understand what outstanding customer
service really looks, aren't ready to turn their organization inside out
to provide it, are trying to paint happy smiles on their frontline service
providers, or are bolting a customer service program on the side of their
organization rather than making it a part of their core strategy.
Here's some of the biggest reasons that so few organizations successfully
turn their customer service rhetoric into reality:
Business is a lot like tennis, those who don't serve well end up losing.
In a recent interview, Bob Green, a service/quality coordinator with AmSouth
Mortgage in Birmingham Alabama summed up the challenge facing most organizations,
"The financial products from one mortgage company to another are basically
the same. We're out to play `quantum leapfrog' and jump out in front of
our competitors. The only way we can do that is to know our customers overall
needs more thoroughly and move more quickly to meet them then anybody else
in our business."
- Little or no segmentation of markets and customer groups. The organization is trying to be everything to everybody. Customers are lumped into one indistinguishable mass and their expectations (if they've been gathered at all) aren't weighted, ranked, and segmented.
- Little or no customer data. When it is collected (such as an occasional survey) positive feedback
is acknowledged. But negative data is denied (usually by challenging the
survey methodology). Budget priorities are set, cost containment initiated,
and resources allocated with little, if any, systematic connection to customer
priorities and expectations. Improvement activities are focused on what
the organization or management considers important.
- The organization is managed from the inside out. New products and services are pushed out to the market through sales and
marketing. Customers aren't involved as active partners in research and
development activities. A senior executive in a leading computer company
once said, "If customers don't like our solutions, they have the wrong
- Employees are treated as the source of service breakdowns. Training and motivational campaigns (such as recognition programs) aim
to "fix the frontline". Management pays little attention to all
the research that proves "The 85/15 Rule" -- 85% of service breakdowns
originate in organizational systems, processes, or structures.
Internal customer tyranny runs rampant. Departments who are served by other
departments use the concept of "internal customer-supplier relationships"
to get their own needs met whether or not it improves external customer
- Blurry line of sight to external customers -- many organizational members (other then those on the front serving
lines) have little interaction with external customers and often don't
understand (and have little reason to care about) customers' expectations
and how their work ultimately helps or hinders meeting those expectations.
- One customer group dominates. For example, the focus is on retailers, agents, or distributors with scant attention paid to the ultimate consumer. Little effort is made to understand and balance the needs of both groups while pulling products and services through the distribution or service chain.
- Focus is on customer acquisition rather than retention. Investments in sales and marketing to bring in new customers are much
higher then efforts to retain or expand business with current customers.
Customer aren't people. Thinking of someone as a customer implies providing
service, partnership, or some form of equality. However, when customers
become "policyholders", "consumers", "patients",
"passengers", "taxpayers", "accounts", or
"advertisers" they often become less human.